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mind the oranges, marlon

What with all the fuss about the new V for Vendetta film, you can't escape Alan Moore these days. But why would you want to? Because he is a genius, and the more people who recognise that, the better. There was a great piece devoted to him on BBC 2's Culture Show last week, which you can watch here. In it, Jonathan Ross points out that if a mainstream prose writer were producing work as complex and erudite as that of Moore, then that writer would be on the front page of every literary publication there is. And it's true. If a prose writer were producing anything vaguely as innovative and graceful and erudite and funny as Moore's work he or she would be hailed as a genius, but because Moore writes comics, he's simply not taken seriously. Which is stupidly unfair. Moore's books are sometimes thrilling, sometimes incredibly disturbing, sometimes funny, but always fascinating and always, even the most horrible ones, humane. And he can write everything from subversive Victorian pastiche to epic superhero drama to radical lefty satire to high comedy ("mind the oranges, Marlon!") to police drama. Can Philip Roth or Zadie Smith do that?

Pretty much everything he's done is outstanding (particularly The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a literary geek's fantastic dream), but I think my favourite of all of Moore's many, many series and books is Top 10. It's basically Hill Street Blues with superheroes - it's set in Neopolis, a city where everyone has super-powers, but it doesn't feel like a superhero comic a la X Men; it feels like a really good cop show. The characters are believable, likeable people first and "superheroes" second, and the books are sometimes very funny and sometimes very moving - pretty much every one of the three books has made me cry quite a bit. And there are so many tiny, geeky jokes in every frame - little visual references to myriad other elements of pop culture. In one scene of the second Top 10 volume set in a transport station, we see a bunch of people in the far background bearing placards demanding better wheelchair access. If you look closely, you can see that all of these tiny figures are famous wheel-using characters from the world of comics and science-fiction - one is Barbara 'Batgirl' Gordon, one is X-Men's Professor Xavier.....and one is a Dalek. But my favourite of all the Top 10 volumes is the most recent offering The Forty Niners, which is set during the founding of Neopolis in 1949 and which is simply one of the best graphic novels I've ever read. And yes, it made me cry too. And laugh. And go, "oh wow, that's so cool!"

And there are very few writers who can evoke all of those responses. Here's to you, Alan Moore. Long may you roam around Northampton, making up the strangest and most wonderful stories in the world.

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Comments

stellanova
Mar. 19th, 2006 10:38 pm (UTC)
I can't remember if the first Moore I read was V or Watchmen - I read both when I was about 17 or 18 and was blown away. I must confess that From Hell is almost too gorey for me, but the most disturbing Moore I've ever read was the issue of League where they visit Dr Moreau. It genuinely horrified me and when I finished it I actually wished I hadn't read it, it made me feel so horrible. Urrrgh, just thinking about it makes my skin crawl. The same episode also featured Mr Hyde's horrific murder of the Invisible Man, so it was an all-round ick-fest. Brilliant, but I couldn't bear to read that issue again.
darling_effect
Mar. 20th, 2006 12:43 am (UTC)
I think I felt the same way about that particular issue of Swamp Thing too —Moore has a way of pushing things to extremes, but then dances back from the edge with such wit and grace that he can't help but win you back every time. From Hell is genuinely, genuinely terrifying —I cannot read it when I'm alone in the house. But it's always worth going wherever he takes you...

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